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Taiwan lawmakers seek meeting with pope after bishop row

Taiwanese lawmakers are seeking an audience with Pope Francis as concerns grow over Taipei’s diplomatic relations with the Vatican, after it reportedly promoted bishops endorsed by the Chinese government.

The Holy See is one of only 20 countries that recognize Taipei instead of Beijing, but Pope Francis has sought to improve ties with China since he took office in 2013.

China still sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and demands that allies of Beijing must give up any official ties with the island.

Five legislators from Taiwan’s foreign affairs and interior committees are leaving on Saturday for an eight-day visit to the Vatican, Italy and Greece.

Lawmaker Tsai Shih-ying, who is part of the group, said they were “hoping to have an audience with the pope” but it was still to be confirmed.

“We will express our stance and communicate on issues … relating to Taiwan-Vatican ties,” he told AFP, without elaborating.

Their visit comes after the Vatican chastized Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen who accused it of “selling out” to Beijing over the bishop issue.

Zen, bishop emeritus of semiautonomous Hong Kong, confirmed an AsiaNews website report that a Vatican diplomat asked two underground Chinese bishops recognized by the Vatican to resign in favour of state-sanctioned prelates.

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, but the Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951, two years after the founding of the communist People’s Republic.

Although Beijing and the Vatican have improved relations in recent years as China’s Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain bishops.

Previous attempts to restore ties have floundered over Beijing’s insistence that the Vatican must give up its recognition of its rival Taiwan and promise not to interfere in religious issues in China.

Beijing has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen took power in 2016 as her government refuses to acknowledge that the island is part of “one China.”

Former Taiwanese allies Gambia, Sao Tome and Panama have established ties with Beijing since Tsai was elected in January 2016.

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